Anytime a rule is changed in wrestling, especially relative to scoring, it should meet four criteria:
- Will it increase scoring?
- Does it escalate action, which is different from increasing scoring.
- Will it make wrestling simpler and easier to understand?
- Does it increase the interest of the spectators we have and those who are watching for the first time?
What shouldn’t be a criterion:
- The opinions of coaches.
I’m sorry but coaches have been in charge of the sport for as long as I can remember and unfortunately we are where we are as a result. But is it their fault or it is the fault of the NCAA and the various State High School Associations who have given them the power to control the sport and as a result our destiny?
Coaches, at least the ones who are currently running programs, should have no say in the general administration of wrestling and specifically the rules.
If you think for a moment, the only aspect of importance in any business is the color of the ink it produces. Revenue is the fuel that makes companies run. Without fuel, all enterprise comes to a halt, exactly what’s been happening in wrestling as the number of programs and spectators are being whittled down.
The only thing that’s keeping us solvent right now is the good graces of Athletic Directors because as everyone should know, every collegiate wrestling program in America, including Iowa and Penn State lose money each year. And given the ravenous financial nature of football and basketball to become bigger, stronger and better, non-revenue sports had better hunker down because administrators are growing less and less interested in keeping feel good liabilities on their books.
Adding insult to injury, without a steady stream of significant income, anything that happens in a sport that is negatively financed becomes magnified proportionally to the brightness of the red ink it creates.
There is no doubt that without revenue, wrestling is in serious trouble given we’re at the bottom (or next to the bottom) in relation to other sports in academic performance while being at the top (or next to the top) in the number of concussions, injuries and communicable skin infections. And socially, no one has ever accused wrestlers of being teetotalers or were shocked when they didn’t walk away from a good fight. Those are the types of things, exacerbated by the amount of red ink wrestling produces, that puts us in the cross hairs of extinction.
When things happen that aren’t good, I guess we should ask who’s responsible; the athlete’s parents, local bar tenders, the school’s academic counselors or training room staff or the coaches? Obviously the athletes are the ones who are ultimately responsible but regardless, it doesn’t matter where we point the finger. The sport always takes the hit along with individual(s).
As a result, given that we have our share of issues, we have to either manage the wrestlers in a more positive way or we can focus our energies on increasing revenue. Granted, it would be wonderful to focus on improvement in both areas but since that is too far removed from reality to even discuss, and the first one by itself being almost as difficult, we only have one option, increase revenues.
In defense of those who coach, it’s not that they’re trying to hurt the sport. It’s not that they’re failing their responsibilities as extremely gifted technicians or individuals who know how to inspire, motivate and lead. It’s they’re way too competitive to make decisions outside of their prime objective which is developing athletes and winning tournament titles.
As an example it’s the coaches who determine the number of matches their team will wrestle each year. And given those numbers mean experience for the athletes and run parallel to national success, every program is now wrestling four times as many matches as were wrestled in the 1950’s. Each decade coaches have added more and more dates to their schedule.
That translates into athletes missing classes 4 times more often than their counterparts did when Danny Hodge wrestled. And during those occasions when today’s athletes are in class, they’re losing weight 4 times more often . . . and we all know how that’s working for us academically.
Coaches cannot and should not be given responsibilities in areas that aren’t in their fields of expertise or be forced to choose between winning and that which is in the best interest of the sport.
Here’s where the NCAA, not the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee has to step in and take charge. And if that means helping the sport focus on generating more revenue and increasing our spectator base, so be it! We need to seriously upgrade our wow factor which is currently more ugh than wow.
Wrestling has to become exciting, and please refrain from pointing out those far too few great matches we seldom see as being representative of wrestling. Great bouts are not the norm. It’s like fishing in a pond that’s been fished out. You’re going to sit there for a long time between nibbles.
What wrestling has to do and the coaches won’t like one bit is devise rules with the goal of making a great battles like Taylor-Dake and Nolf-Martinez the norm. When we achieve that, we’ll have something.
The number one rule change of the 21st century has to be A Point Earned is a Point Recorded.
This is so logical it’s beyond comprehension how we could have overlooked it for the system of 3 point decisions, 4 point majors and the 5 point techs that we have today. Whoever came up with that formula had to be a closet socialist.
Think about it; win by 1 point and you receive 3 team points. Win by 7 points and you receive 3 team points. That’s the basis of socialism, take from the producer so you can reward those who don’t. And with that form of collectivism, the outcome always ends up being the producer, which aren’t near as plentiful as we need, thinking what’s the point? Why am I busting my hump and putting myself as risk of losing to score a bunch of points when winning by 1 gives my team the same number of points as winning by 7?”
Our sport penalizes for trying and rewards those who won’t. So where’s the incentive?
Name one sport, just one, that has a point system like ours? Good luck with that . . .
That’s where wrestling is now and exactly why wrestler’s outnumber the fans at way too many events.
I can just hear the coaches now tearing this apart; “it’s unfair, it won’t work, I don’t like it.” And the reason they don’t like it is it takes them out of a comfort zone they know well. It changes the sports paradigm, it forces coaches to rethink everything they do. But is that really bad?
Wrestling has to make rules that benefit spectators, not the ones who coach it. For those who question that, we might ask, “how’s the current system they created working for us?”
Okay, enough already, here’s the fine print of a Point Earned is a Point Scored.
To begin, this means scrapping the 3, 4, 5, and 6 point match outcomes. Instead we change to a every point an athlete scores is a team point recorded.
Examples: regarding a regular decision: wrestler A wins by a score of 7-4. Wrestler A’s team receives 7 team points and wrestler B’s team receives 4 points.
Forfeits are worth 15 team points and I’ll explain my rationale for that further down. So, when wrestler A receives a forfeit, wrestler A’s team receives 15 team points; the opposing team receives 0 points.
Disqualifications: 15 team points are added to the winners bout score. If wrestler A is winning 5-2 at the time of wrestler B being disqualified, wrestler A’s team receives 20 points (15 + 5) and wrestler B’s team receives 2 team points.
Injury default: 10 team points are added to the winners bout score. If wrestler A is winning 5-2 at the time of wrestler B being injured, wrestler A’s team receives 15 points (10 + 5) and wrestler B’s team receives 2 team points.
Pins: 10 team points are added to the winners bout score. If wrestler A is winning 5-2 at the time of wrestler B being pinned, wrestler A’s team receives 15 points (10 + 5) and wrestler B’s team receives 2 team points.
Tech falls are just like they are now, 15 point separation. If wrestler A is ahead by the score of 18-3 the match ends with wrestler A’s team receiving 18 team points and wrestler B’s team receiving 3 team points.
I’m sure this raises a lot of questions . . . but rest assured I’ll answer every one of them before you’re done reading.
The benefits of these changes are immense. To begin there are no additional risks to athlete safety, there is no additional training that’s necessary for officials and there is no additional cost to the schools when this rule is applied. So put those thoughts behind you.
Over all, this system of a point scored is a point recorded:
- Immensely encourages scoring and as a result increases excitement.
- Allows every wrestler to contribute to the team score even in a losing effort.
- Pushes both athletes to score points right up to the end of a match regardless of who’s ahead, who’s behind, or by how much.
- Logically increases the number of pins by virtue of higher scoring.
- Severely discourages stalling because even in a losing effort a last second escape actually means a lot to a teams total.
- Allows a team whose losing rather badly to come back and win the dual. Come from behind wins are the sweetest events in spectators lives and keeps fans in their seats right up to the very end.
- Makes the sport easy to understand for those who are new to wrestling.
- It seriously discourages forfeits and bad behavior that are extremely positive outcomes especially given the number of times we see forfeits and cheat spectators out of that which was expected – X number of matches for the price of admission.
- With larger team scores, the chance of two teams tying is near impossible as is having to explain to spectators our complicated system of tie-breaking.
As to the basis for change, wrestling strategies have slowly eroded scoring to the point that winning is all about who can make the least amount of mistakes and take the least amount of shots. Consequently low scoring matches with one or two points separating the combatants has become the norm. It’s this defensive posturing that has quietly ground down spectator interest in wrestling to the point of near extinction.
Granted the sport has more than a few issues, but the most important one we must address before all others is a lack of individual scoring. This change is huge for wrestling, something that will obviously create a great deal of controversy, most of it coming from the coaches. The source of their objections will center on their repulsion of being forced to change a long held belief and actual fact that the slow-down approach to wrestling wins matches.
But I will also tell you, as soon as the first whistle blows after this rule is implemented, coaches will forget every issue they had with the change and start coaching to the new rule. They’re competitors and if there’s one thing you can count on its them competing.
Speaking of losing spectators; my son who wasn’t a bad wrestler in his own rights, and knows the sport inside out won’t go to matches. I asked him why out of curiosity and he said, “They’re too boring to watch and I even know the nuances of the game. If they offered me free beer and a ticket, I wouldn’t go. I’d rather sit home and watch Jeopardy.”
This is exactly what I’m trying to explain to our leadership and now you; there is a crisis going on in wrestling and the current system does not and will not encourage athletes to score points other than what is absolutely necessary to win.
It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that coaches who win the most, teach the slowdown approach to wrestling; with an apology to Cael Sanderson. It’s the way all the other coaches become successful using today’s rules. You get a lead, you play the edge and control the tie-up, down block on your opponent’s shots and follow them with a few half shots of your own. That’s how you keep the referee at bay while waiting for the match to end.
A vast majority of athletes don’t care what the score is when the final buzzer sounds, as long as they get their hand raised. So I don’t blame the competitors or in some cases the coaches for low scoring and often boring matches. It’s the rules they’re playing to and if we really want action, we need to change the rules they’re playing to.
Granted, this change is way over the top from what we’re accustomed to but we don’t have much time left before really bad things befall the sport. But I believe once you have had time to think about how simple this change is to make and how effective it will be at pulling athletes out of their comfort zone, it will become a huge hit very quickly.
But be forewarned, coaches will hate it and they will be very vocal about their opinions. It has everything to do with their fear of losing matches to teams that previously were walk-overs. But is that a bad thing? Not the loss’s but the fear? Isn’t fear the greatest motivator? If we scare the coaches, they in turn will see to it that their athletes feel the same amount of anxiety they’re feeling and everything will change. People love upsets and the sport needs more parity; this rule helps both to occur.
In every other sport a point earned is a point registered. So why not wrestling? Can you imagine basketball waiting to the end of a game to tally the team scores? How crazy would it be to give a player 5 team points if he scores between 10 and 15 points and 10 team points if he scores between 15 to 30 points? That’s what wrestling does? How about a quarterback who throws for 3 touchdowns and the scoreboard only gives him credit for 1 at the end of the game? Serve 3 aces in tennis and look up to see the score is only 15-Love. Hit a bases loaded home run and only get credit for your run, not the other three. Or winning in Rugby 27-23 and your team receives 10 team points for scoring 27 and your opponent loses all 23 of their points. Sound crazy, yep, and it is exactly what we do in wrestling.
The basic concept is every point scored by either wrestler is a point earned when the match ends. That’s so easy for everyone to understand from the sports veterans to our newbies.
Now you may ask why I’m penalizing Forfeits and Disqualifications beyond the amount of points an athlete earns for a pin. Because there should be consequences beyond a 10 point pin for poor behavior on the part of an athlete or for a team who can’t find a body to plug a hole in their lineup.
Regarding forfeits, it’s my contention that well over 90% of teams who forfeit a weight has someone on their current roster who could have wrestled. And 100% of the teams have someone at their school who would love to fill that spot if the coach would go to the club team or intramural tournament and find them. All too often the coach just decides he’d prefer not to have a match than throw a lesser athlete out there to get pinned and with it lose team momentum.
We should all understand when there’s a forfeit, the offending coach is basically breaching a legal contract that spectators have with the host school to provide a set number of matches for the price of a ticket. There should be an additional cost, a substantially larger penalty for cheating the spectator and putting the sport at risk and why it’s worth 15 points. Wrestling cannot grow as a sport when we knowingly choose to shortchange our customers.
How would you feel about a restaurant that served you 10 oysters when you ordered a dozen and are paying for a dozen? If baseball skipped the 5th and 6th inning would consumers feel slighted? What if Nascar decided to take 25 laps out of the Daytona 500? How about a movie theater randomly cutting 10 minutes out of the middle of the movie? Forfeits are the same thing; coaches are knowingly cheating those who bought tickets. That behavior tears at the fabric of our sport and certainly gives customer service a black eye.
With these new rules there’s now a strong impetus for athletes to fight to get off the bottom with 15 seconds left in a match, even if they’re losing 9-3. And conversely, there are tremendous incentives for the dominant wrestler to keep scoring up until the end of the match. If the athlete doesn’t get this, I’m sure his coach will remind him of the importance of scoring and scoring often, probably with a very loud voice.
Regarding the pin, this was the most difficult aspect to get a handle on relative to scoring. As simple as it is to say a point earned is a team point scored, throwing in how to handle the pin was nothing short of maddening. Trust me; I went through dozens of mental contortions to reach the following conclusion.
My problem was; if an athlete is winning 15-4 and gets pinned, the team score under this system is 15 points for the person who got pinned (loser) and 14 points (10+4) for the winner.
“Now wait a minute Wade. That’s not fair; the loser gets more team points than the winner!” Yep, that’s right, because all points scored must be points earned. We have to reward all wrestlers, in every situation, who put points on the board. Points mean action, action means spectators and spectators means institutional revenue. Baseball doesn’t negate the two runs a batter drives in after he is thrown out trying to reach third. Once points are earned, they’re earned!
No one knows more than me how difficult this was to think about and then type. But I’ve looked at this 20 ways to Sunday and it’s the best way of handling it because the pin is nothing more than a scoring technique that’s a level above a near fall. Think of it that way, a pin is similar to a takedown or a reversal. All three are scoring techniques but as it has always been, the pin ends the match and determines the victor, that’s it.
I know that sounds crazy but the whole premise behind this system is to reward effort. We must incentivize wrestlers to score more and score often while forcing coaches out of their “protect the lead” approach to wrestling. Once everyone understands the game has changed, they’ll change with it; they’re too competitive not to.
Continuing the discussion regarding a pin, actually, how many times does the wrestler who’s ahead on points get pinned? So should we get our underwear all knotted up over something that seldom happens? But when it does, the offensive machine that racked up more points than his opponent in the example above should be rewarded for his effort.
If you think this rule will scare the bejesus out of coaches, you’re probably right. But we have to force each of them to alter the way they handle their athletes. Scoring must be our top priority and with it you can bet you’ll see a lot of action. Wrestlers must be forced or sufficiently motivated to engage their opponents as often as boxers throw punches or basketball players take shots.
If we’re to make significant changes to wrestling relative to scoring, athletes need to know that each point earned makes a difference. They also need to feel that the sport respects them enough and the chances they take to make this change.
So let’s say for the sake of argument that a team wins a dual meet by the score of 126 to 122. And one of the winning team’s wrestlers lost his individual bout 10-5. How valuable do you think he feels knowing that his 5 points made the difference in the outcome of the match? How vocal do you think his teammates were when he wrestled knowing that every point he scored could make the difference? Peer pressure is a wonderful thing.
Currently, when an athlete is losing 10-4 in the third period with 45 seconds left the match is basically over and the atmosphere in the arena is anemic. The person with 4 points has given up and the one with 10 is just riding out the period. As for the spectators, they’re talking among themselves about what they’re going to do after the match. But when every point counts, coaches are screaming, fans are cheering and the athletes are scrambling as a result of the pressure to produce. None of this can be a bad thing.
Tournaments should be scored in the same way but maybe that should be a discussion for another day.
Granted, there could be a few occasional upsets early on with this rule but over time the pecking order of teams will remain the same. Successful coaches know how they became successful and will continue being that way regardless of the rules.
Two years ago when the NCWA checked to see what would have happened using this system at their National Dual Meet Championships here’s what they found. Out of the 4 quarter-finals, 2 semi-finals and Championship match only 1 of the 7 duals would have had a different winner under this system.
Now if anyone is concerned about those high school teams that have 2 pinners and 12 average wrestlers defeating a team with 14 good wrestlers they should be. But think about this; how is this scoring system any different than other sports? One 6’ 11” basketball star in high school surrounded by 4 average players has a legitimate shot at winning the state championships. According to wrestling that’s not fair. A great running back or quarterback can carry a so-so football team through the playoffs. According to wrestling that’s not fair. An outstanding tennis player will compete in both singles and doubles and account for 30 percent of a team’s score. One good pitcher in baseball surrounded by 8 average players will defeat 8 great players with an average pitcher. Just because this is different from what we’ve grown accustomed to in wrestling, which is the reason why the slowdown approach to scoring is so familiar to us, it doesn’t mean the change shouldn’t be made.
As for the fans, what’s not to like about more scoring? This rule alteration completely eliminates the challenge we currently have trying to explain what regular decisions, majors and technical falls are to the sports newcomers. As to the referee’s; which one wouldn’t embrace any rule change that increased scoring and reduced the number of stalling calls?
I have to admit I was and still am perplexed about a Default? How many points should it be worth? 15 like we award teams for forfeits and disqualifications or where I have it now in the 10 point category? This was another dilemma where I ended up choosing between the better of two imperfect choices. I didn’t want an athlete who was injured trying to finish the match because he didn’t want the other team to receive 15 points. Yet on the other hand, I worry those wrestlers who have to wrestle an athletic scoring machine might feign injury to keep his team from losing too many points. But in the end, given that you can’t legislate morality, but you can protect athletes by your decisions, I chose the latter and made injury default a 10 point occurrence.
Now, not everything that’s wrong in wrestling is the coach’s fault but most of our fixes need to start there. The point is coaches don’t make the rules but they influence the rule makers enough that if they don’t like something, it doesn’t happen. That hurts the sport more than anyone realizes and wrestling can’t win when coaches have that level of power. They’ll always do what’s in the best interest of their wins and loses and why their direct involvement in managing the sport should be rethought.